In the midst of World War Two, the clear blue Scottish sky is cut through by the ominous sound of aeroplane engines. But instead of a deadly fleet of German spitfires, a child’s toy plane zooms through the air. This engaging opening scene introduces the main juxtaposition of the film: war and childhood.
After witnessing a dogfight over the Scottish coast, young David comes face-to-face with an injured German soldier. In the minutes that ensue, the tension builds as both the child and the fighter must decide what happens next.
What’s instantly striking about this short film is the fresh, pastel palette and the strikingly dynamic shots. Muir makes the most of the beautiful Scottish scenery, choosing to shoot the story amongst vivid blue waves and glassy skies. Initially, this candy-coloured wonderland seems at odds with the topic of war: too light, too bright, too childish. But then, after all, we are seeing things through a child’s eye. Given the opening confusion between real life and playtime, the juxtaposition between the Crayola colourings and rapid gunfire is not so jarring after all.
That said, Muir could be criticised for making war too beautiful. One example of this is the scene of the planes flying over David’s head. In contrast to their gruesome purpose, the symmetrical flock of gliding machines looks elegant and even ethereal, almost like a shoal of silvery fish gliding through clear waters. But on the other hand, this surreal imagery also highlights the peculiarity of war. At the end of the day, what’s stranger: a species hell bent on its own destruction or fish out of water?
The chemistry between David and the Nazi soldier is brilliant. So much is said through wordless communication, and is all the better for its silence. It could be said that the relationship between these central characters should have been developed further. One imagines that David might save the endangered man and they form an unlikely friendship. But this does not happen. The enemy is removed from the scene and David returns home, his toy plane now abandoned.
In a way, this is a much more interesting turn of the story. What I have imagined playing out is far more infantile than what actually happens. By denying the naive fantasy of compassion triumphing over war, Turning Tide shows a small death of one boy’s innocence within a far wider context of violent destruction. Sadly, this is probably a much more realistic portrayal of childhood and war than stories of mismatched friends who beat the odds.
'Turning Tide' was a film in consideration for Short Focus Film Festival 2019.